There is a special reason to make compost this fall. This is the International Year of the Soil, a yearlong international celebration and awareness campaign to highlight the importance of soil in our everyday lives.
The Spokane County Master Gardener Foundation is celebrating its importance with two free showings of the film “Symphony of the Soil” on Sept. 23 at Gonzaga University and Sept. 26 at CenterPlace as part of Valleyfest. The Gonzaga showing will be followed by a presentation by WSU professor Lynn Carpenter-Boggs; the CenterPlace presentation will include some hands-on compost activities for all ages. Come see why your seemingly worthless dead plants are really black gold. Check out Susan Mulvihill’s column in this Sunday’s Spokesman-Review, in the Today section, about other events that are part of the showings.
Making compost is not difficult. It is the simple mixing of dead, dry plant material with fresh green material in a pile that is left to decompose. The green material can be grass clippings, weeds without seeds, green plants or leaves; the brown can be dry leaves, dead plants, old straw and pine needles. The material needs to be shredded to make lots of edges for the bacteria to feed on. As you clean out leaves and dead plants spread them over the lawn and then simply run the lawnmower over them and gather it all up. This also does a good job of mixing the material with grass clippings so it’s ready for the pile.
Put your pile in an out-of-the-way corner of your lot that has easy access for wheelbarrows or even a truck. Build a bin a minimum of 3 feet tall, wide and high so there is enough mass for the bacteria to work on. The bin can be built inexpensively out of pallets, heavy wire, snow fencing or anything else that is stiff enough to hold the pile in place. There are also simple commercial round plastic bins available.
If you aren’t using the lawn mower mixing method you should mix your material one part green to two parts brown. This can be forkfuls or wheelbarrow loads. As you pile the material into the bin, water it down so that the material is about the dampness of a wrung-out sponge. Within a few hours, your pile will begin to heat up, eventually reaching between 130 to 160 degrees in a few days. The heat comes from the bacteria eating up the material. If you are ambitious, you can turn the pile every couple of weeks or you can leave it. Turning it regularly will make finished compost faster. Water the pile once a week if it stays dry this fall.
Shredded pine needles don’t acidify the soil and can be used to make compost; they will just take longer to break down. Mix one part shredded needles with two parts green material. Shredding the needles breaks down the waxy coating and opens the needles to the bacteria. Try using half-finished pine needle compost as a mulch in flower beds.
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